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Full text of "A history of Persia"

CHAP.LIV         PERSIAN LITERATURE               131
the little son of Yakub bin Lais is represented as lisping
the first Persian verse, and this, mere legend though it
may be, is of considerable significance as showing popular
belief on the subject. It is reasonable to suppose that
Persian poetry may have existed in Sasanian times, and
legends tell of Barbad, court poet of Khusru Parviz, but
as already stated in Chapter XLI. no traces of it are to be
found ; for all practical purposes such poetry may be said
to have come into being rather more than a millennium
ago, under the semi-independent rulers who governed
various fragments of the old Persian Empire.
During this period of one thousand years the changes
in the Persian language have been astonishingly small.
In English literature it is not every one who can enjoy
Chaucer, because there is much that is archaic and un-
familiar in the language, but Persian poetry has come
down to us fully developed, and is perhaps easier to
understand in its early natural simplicity than in the
more ornate artificiality which became, and has remained,
the standard of taste.
The Persian is naturally of a poetical temperament,
and in pleasing contrast to the latest songs of the music-
hall heard in England is the classical poetry frequently
recited even by muleteers, while the educated classes can
quote freely from the great writers.
One of Browne's favourite authors, Nizami al-Arudi
of Samarcand, gives a curious definition of poetry which
is worth quoting. " Poetry," he says, " is that art whereby
the poet arranges imaginary propositions and adapts the
deductions with the result that he can make a little thing
appear great and a great thing small, or cause good to
appear in the garb of evil and evil in the garb of good,
By acting on the imagination he excites the faculties of
anger and concupiscence in such a way that by his
suggestion men's temperaments become affected with
exultation or depression; whereby he conduces to the
accomplishment of great things in the order of the
World."
In the present chapter I make no attempt to condense
into a few pages the classical age of Persian literature, and